The Arizona Cardinals have seemingly gotten a strong answer on special teams, while given another question for the offensive line.
There may have been a fair number of things to be down about in the Arizona Cardinals’ recent loss to the Baltimore Ravens, but there was a bright spot that shown through in the game as well. This bright spot came by way of the special teams. The Cardinals appear to have found someone who will provide electricity in the kick return game, and that someone is Jonathan Ward. His performance against the Ravens was impressive and is a welcome sign for the team.
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Last season, Christian Kirk handled punt return duties and Chase Edmonds handled kick return duties. With both of those players having departed for other teams, the Cardinals are going to need someone capable to come in and handle these duties for them in 2022. Ward, who is in the midst of a battle for a third or fourth running back spot on the roster, is definitely bolstering his chances to make the team with these additional abilities returning kicks.
Ward had just one kick return in 2021 for 16 yards. But as it becomes clearer that the running back depth chart is pretty well stacked for the Cardinals, it could be beneficial for the team to simply let him do his thing as the full-time kick returner in 2022, and let the tandem of Conner, Benjamin, and Williams handle the duties of carrying the football in the rushing game. Ward did have to exit the game against the Ravens with an injury, but it doesn’t appear to be anything of concern.
In other news, the coaching staff seems to be worried about the status of Justin Pugh and whether he’ll be able to make a Week One start against the Kansas City Chiefs. With this development, it suddenly seems the trade for Cody Ford was a timely one. It’s unclear at this point just how serious Pugh’s situation is, but he’s seeing a specialist for a stinger issue, and Kliff Kingsbury says the team is taking the situation as it comes.
Pugh has been a solid offensive lineman for a number of years, both for the Cardinals and for the New York Giants, so news that he’s dealing with an injury of which the extent isn’t fully known isn’t exactly the best news. But for Cody Ford, this may mean his moment to show that he can be a starter on the team’s offensive line long term. He has yet to make an imprint on the NFL and he may be getting his chance to do so soon enough.
Ford is an old college teammate of Kyler Murray at the University of Oklahoma, so I’m sure it’s a welcome reunion for both of them. But the lineman has got to show that he’s capable of making the kinds of strides that will make him a solid starter in the NFL. The Buffalo Bills had little issue on their part trading him because they were confident he wasn’t going to be able to attain a starting spot on their offensive line. He now has to prove to the Cardinals what he couldn’t to the Bills.
It’s been stated several times throughout the offseason and through training camp ad nauseum that the Cardinals’ offensive line has to be more consistent this season than it was in ’21. If Pugh is unable to go Week One, Ford may have to. The team faces an absolute gauntlet in the first three weeks of the season – the Chiefs, Las Vegas Raiders, and Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams – and in the midst of that stretch would be a horrible team to discover that the offensive line is going to be an issue in 2022.